I am sure that this post will inspire outrage among some because there is always a song that could have made the list. Nevertheless, do not mistake this for a list of the 25 best love songs, for there are a great many songs that might make the list before these. Rather, consider it a list of songs which seek to provide a unique angle on romantic love. There are some songs here that may even inspire scoffing, but I remind you, these songs are not so much about musical genius, as they are about lyrical insight. The majority of the following songs are situated within the last 40 years. If I were to go beyond that I would need another list of songs, and frankly I would be venturing into territory with which I am less familiar. So I will let others make that list, and stick with what I know best.
25. Key Largo - Bertie Higgins
Everyone wants their romance to have a dramatic element to it, and perhaps even a musical soundtrack that seems to detail the harrowing and beautiful events that characterize the relationship. Key Largo is no different. Higgins wrote this ballad as a means to try to win back his ex-girlfriend, comparing their time in Key Largo to a scene from a "Bogie and Becall" movie. It worked... for a little while.
24. I Would Give Everything I Own - Bread
23. True Companion - Marc Cohn
From the singer/songwriter who gave us the classic, Walking in Memphis, this lesser known hit is no less lyrically substantial. However, instead of writing a song dedicated to his love of Elvis, this one is dedicated to his bride to be; "There ain't no act of God, to keep you safe from me. My arms are reaching out, out across this canyon. I'm asking you to be true companion." In part, it is romantic because he declares that nothing, including an "act of God," can keep him from her. Even the "canyon" that seems to loom between them is something that will not hold him back. Yet beyond that what makes this ballad so notable is the fact that his passion is geared, not just to some fleeting romance, but to one that is enduring. Indeed, his deepest desire is to bind himself to her; "So don't you dare try to walk away. I've got my heart set on our wedding day. I've got this vision of a girl in white. I made my decision that it's you alright. And when I take your hand, I'll watch my heart set sail. I'll take my trembling fingers and lift up your veil. And then I'll take you home, and with wild abandon, make love to you just like a true companion." One of those rare instances in music, physically speaking, when everything happens in the right order. But notice that even when he refers to "making love" to her, he still keeps that same chivalric tone- never alluding to her as some mere instrument of pleasure, but as a "true companion"; someone he views as the flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones.
22. She's Got a Way - Billy Joel
21. Faithfully - Journey
20. Your Song - Elton John
19. Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman - Bryan Adams
18. My Eyes Adored You - Frankie Valli
There were other songs I could have included from Valli, but this one has it all. A man is never so inspired to write poetry for a woman than when she is just out of his reach. Along with the story line about a grade school crush that is never actualized, Valli makes it all the more bittersweet with this line; "Though I never laid hand on you, my eyes adored you." One can almost hear the girls swoon at such a line. Why? Because the writers of the song (which were originally The Four Seasons) understood something extremely important about romance. After all, there are few things more romantic than a man who continues to love and praise a woman, even without any sort of physical reciprocation. Dare I say it, it is an ode to chaste love! Forgive me.
17. Forever and For Always - Shania Twain
This is the only female artist on the countdown because women are the object and inspiration of romance, men are not. A woman doesn't "romance" a man (see #5 on the 8 Girliest Songs post). Consequently, what makes this song romantic is not what Shania Twain says about how she has won her man over by sending him flowers (or some such thing), rather it describes the manner in which her man (presumably Mutt) makes her feel loved; "In your heart, I can still feel a beat for every time you kiss me, and when we're apart I know how much you miss me... In your eyes, I can still see the look of the one who really loves me, the one who wouldn't put anything else in the world above me..." The key to romancing a woman is to do something that makes her feel uniquely loved, demonstrating through your actions that, as far as you're concerned, no other woman exists. As for the object of this song, namely Mutt, needless to say, running off with the nanny is not romantic.
16. I'll Still Be Loving You - Restless Heart and Longer - Dan Fogelberg
Many love songs have discussed loving someone for a lengthy period of time (i.e. forever), but these two songs are on the list together because they accomplish this better than any other. Restless Heart declares; "I'll be yours until the sun doesn't shine, till time stands still, until the winds don't blow. When today is just a memory to me, I know, I'll still be loving you." While Fogelberg says; "Longer than there've been fishes in the ocean, higher than any bird ever flew, longer than there've been stars up in the heavens, I've been in love with you." It feels as if both of these songs are in a duel to show whose love is more enduring. In fact, all of this talk of eternity gives the song an almost Biblical feel. Longer seems like an ode to Genesis- especially as it describes the creation of the heavens and the earth- or when Jesus says to the Father that he has loved him from before the foundation of the world. I'll Still be Loving You feels a little bit like a tip of the cap to Joshua where the suns stands still, or to the Gospels where Jesus predicts that the sun will be "blackened". Perhaps I am over thinking this a little, but what cannot argued is that both of these songs are meant to embody a love that is epic and timeless.
15. Haven't Met You Yet - Michael Buble
14. You Decorated My Life - Kenny Rogers and You're My Home - Billy Joel
13. When the Stars Go Blue - Ryan Adams
12. Just Like Heaven - The Cure
This is the one new wave entry on the list. The goth thing is certainly evident in the vocals and the lyrics (and the video), but at its core this song is still romantically substantive. In other words, the focus of it is not so much on Robert Smith moping around- as it is on this beautiful ethereal woman he is describing; "Spinning on that dizzy edge, I kissed her face, I kissed her head, and dreamed of all the different ways I had to make her glow." There it is. In order to be a true romantic, your aim must be to connive all kinds of different ways to make your beloved "glow" (in a non-radioactive way). The song also captures many of those moments that indeed make romance so sweet; " Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream she said, the one that makes me laugh she said, threw her arms around my neck. Tell me how you do it, and I promise you, I promise that I'll run away with you... I'll run away with you." The chorus captures a fundamental truth about the end and purpose of life. At its core love is meant to be a foretaste of heaven; or as Robert Smith puts it, "just like heaven."
11. Making Memories of Us - Keith Urban
Read all of the lyrics to this song, it is practically a catechism for how to woo a woman. Here are a few highlights; "I'm gonna be here for you baby, I'll be a man of my word... I'm going to honor your mother; I want to learn from your pa... I want to stand out in a crowd for you, a man among men. I want to make your world better than it's ever been... And I'm going to love you, like nobody loves you. And I'll earn your trust making memories of us." Now whether or not Mr. Urban is like this in real life, I could not say; what I can say, however, is that he covers just about as many bases of chivalry as any song could. In any case, the line that really sets it apart is the one that depicts the type of relationship he wants with her parents. It is an important insight to recognize that one of the ways that you love and honor a woman is by first honoring the one's who gave her life.
10. My Little Girl - Tim McGraw
9. Skin - Rascal Flatts
This is the last of the country songs to make the list. In some ways, country music is the perfect genre for romance because country generally involves some kind of narrative. Truly romantic stories always demand some sort of narrative, while lustful tales require little. Based on a true story about a young girl who is diagnosed with cancer, the song details her trials and tribulations. The story reaches its climax when the young girl receives chemotherapy and as a result loses her hair. What makes this particularly poignant (other than the fact that few woman want to be bald), is that this all happens around the time of the prom, a prom that she now believes she will not be attending. However, not only is she asked to the prom, but when her date arrives, he himself reveals that he has no hair, for he had shaved it in order to stand in solidarity with her. Cancer is not romantic. What is romantic is a young man doing everything in his power to make a girl who probably feels both frightened and alone, feel, at least for the evening, neither one nor the other.
8. The Glory of Love - Peter Cetera
On the "cheesometer" this may rank pretty high, and I would not necessarily disagree; "Like a knight in shining armor from a long time ago (as opposed to recently). Just in time I will save the day take you to my castle far away". If you really want to be horrified just watch the video... I will say no more. The fact is most of the song is, lyrically speaking, rather generic; it is only when you get to the chorus that you start to see something altogether different; "I am a man who will fight for your honor...We'll live forever knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love." The image of defending a woman's honor may seem like an insignificant (if not anachronistic) detail, but it is anything but that. It is true, you cannot see "honor" or touch it; nevertheless, it is no exaggeration to say that "honor" lies directly at the heart of everything that we mean when we talk about dignity and respect. It is not so much something that we defend in ourselves, as it is something that we defend in others. In this particular song (which was written for the sequel to the Karate Kid), a damsel, through no fault of her own, is being threatened by some unsavory character. The protagonist (Daniel son) must intervene in order to defend this woman from some form of bodily harm. As the scene suggests, honor may not be something you can point to specifically, but it certainly is something worth dying for. The latter part of the chorus also reveals something interesting; "We'll live forever knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love." To what end are they enduring all of these trials? For each other? Yes; but also, according to the song, for a "greater glory"; a glory that is everlasting. Although he says no more about it, the line would suggest that their love is meant to be a kind of tribute, an offering, an act of thanksgiving for the exquisite pleasure of being a part of- in some small way- the grander narrative of Love.
7. Arthur's Theme - Christopher Cross
6. The Way You Look Tonight - Frank Sinatra and Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton
I lied a little when I said that I wouldn't include any song that was written before 1970. Just the Way You Look Tonight was written in 1936 (Sinatra performed it much later, however, and it is my preferred version) and has been covered numerous times. Wonderful Tonight was written in 1977. At any rate, I selected both of these classics, not because I like them equally (without question, I prefer the former to the latter), but because the message of each are both similar and salient. There is only one insult that no man minds hearing, "You married above yourself..." The point is a man doesn't mind being thought less of, as long as it is because they think that his wife is beautiful. That is what both these songs are about in a nutshell. Both are devoted almost entirely to that special moment of awe when a man realizes just how beautiful and "wonderful" his wife is- and then subsequently realizes just how lucky he is to be with her; "We go to a party and everyone turns to see, this beautiful lady, who's walking around with me." In her presence, he is just a third person dude that happens to be there with her. On the surface, this might seem to be a downgrade, especially for a man that wants to be regarded in his own way, but for the poet and the romantic, this "down grade" is an upgrade. Another important aspect of both of these songs is the element of memory. Everyone has a night that they will probably remember for the rest of their lives, a night that represents perfection for them; "Someday when I'm awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow, just thinking of you, and the way you look tonight." It is ultimately the type of memory that could make the cold of a prison cell seem warm and bright.
5. In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel
4. Lady in Red - Chris DeBerg
3. Harvest Moon - Neil Young
Neil Young has always seemed to me like an old man (no pun intended); in part because he has a kind of wizened air about him, but also because he just sounds old and rusty; not in a bad way, mind you, but in the sense that he is almost like an Ent; timeless. Harvest Moon is one of those stories, not so much about first love, as it is about love that is a little like aged wine. In other words, the years have not worn away this love. To the contrary, the years have given it more depth and richness, without removing any of the original sweetness; "When we were strangers I watched you from afar. When we were lovers, I loved you with all my heart. Now it's getting late, and the moon is gettin' high. I want to celebrate, see it shinin' in your eye. Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dance again. Because I'm still in love with you, on this harvest moon." Exquisite. Few things are more romantic than the notion of a love that endures. Throw in the image of the harvest moon "shinin' in her eyes" as she dances, and what you have is a romantic masterpiece.
2. Mad About You - Sting
1. Bargain - The Who
Some may be surprised that The Who would make #1 on the list of most romantic songs. But whether or not The Who may be thought of as a romantic band, this song, lyrically speaking, is the perfect piece. In a most remarkable way it sums up everything one needs to know about love, romance, and chivalry. What really sets it apart is that it, unlike any of the other songs, seems to be able to encapsulate and articulate the irony and absurdity of the lover. The lover is fundamentally a fool, and he is a fool because he is willing to do the most unpleasant things in order to win over his beloved; "I'd gladly lose me to find you. I'd gladly give up all I had. To find you I'd suffer anything and be glad. I'd pay any price just to get you. I'd work all my life, and I will. To win you I'd stand naked, stoned, and stabbed. I'd call that a bargain, the best I ever had." Certainly the fact that he is willing to endure all these things to win over his beloved is magnificent, but there are other songs which describe to what great lengths an individual might go to prove his love. What distinguishes this one is not only the fact that he would endure all things, but that he would be "glad" in doing so. In fact, he would even call that a "bargain". It is in some ways reminiscent of what St. Paul had to say about suffering; "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18). It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is this insight that generally only the mystics and the most generous people understand. Some may call it masochistic, some may call it strange, but for the true lover, it is merely justice. If he is to feel at all worthy to stand beside this incomparable beauty, he must offer some form of oblation or sacrifice that is equal to the dignity of this individual (though the secret of the romantic is that he never deems himself adequately worthy). And as if that weren't enough to chew on, Townsend then articulates something about the nature of love that is rarely understand in theology, much less articulated in a rock song; "I sit looking 'round. I look at my face in the mirror. I know I'm worth nothing without you. In life, one and one don't make two; one and one make one." Wow, you could do a theology class on this song alone. There are not many songs that I would accuse of having blatant Trinitarian imagery, but this is one of them. In any case, he seems to understand quite well that by ourselves we are not really ourselves, it is rather in the exchange of love with another that we really begin to comprehend who and what we are.
Honorable mention goes to Dire Straight's "Romeo and Juliet"; Boz Scagg's, "Look What You've Done to Me"; David Gates, "The Goodbye Girl"; Genesis, The Script, "For the First Time"; When in Rome, "I Promise"; The Proclaimer, "500 Miles". The last two have similar themes which, were I to do this list again, would certainly be included. In this case the romance is about the literal "length" the artist would travel to win the heart of their beloved.